PARENTING FOR CHARACTER: TEACHING
Teaching is the first aspect of character education. It is most effective when it is built around a common language. At Birchwood we use Aristotle’s seven moral virtues as a framework for inspiring and cultivating a life of becoming and a life that lives well among others. We define each virtue so that each will have broad applications for children and opportunities for practice.
To our understanding, courage has two aspects. The common definition of courage often includes those exceptional acts of human will, compassion, belief or sense of justice. We envision the brave soldier in battle, the human rights advocates who sacrifice their lives for others, the religiously faithful who withstands persecution, or the political statesman who fearlessly opposes forms of injustice. Stories of such great men and women create enduring lessons in a child’s heart and mind. They have the power to speak to children year after year, and often awaken their own right actions during adversity.
Great acts of courage, however, often require special environmental situations that compel courage. During battle, a soldier, ignoring his own safety, jumps to the aid of his comrade to save his life. In the heat of a religious argument, a Moslem defends his Christian friend, or the Christian defends his Moslem friend. In the moment of voting for legislation that will cost her an election, the political stateswoman votes for legislation that mirrors her conscience and not popular sentiment. Each case is beautiful and noteworthy. But these are not day-to-day acts of courage and may not have immediate impact on children.
There is a second aspect. We call it everyday courage which is very practical and down to earth. Everyday courage embodies the willingness to accept what sacrifices must be made or what price must be paid to reach personal or social goals. Everyday courage can be practiced by all children with the help and guidance of parents and teachers.
For example, an eighth-grade child wishing to gain entrance to a good high school, recognizes that her writing skills are weak, and this weakness might prevent her from admittance. She decides she is willing to improve, and after receiving advice from her writing teacher, she understands that she must spend more time proofreading her work and making better edits. What does this mean? Maybe she needs to spend an extra hour of study time on the weekend? Maybe she needs to skip a movie with her friends to gain an hour of study? Maybe she determines, “No Facebook time,” at least until I do my edits.
This is a lesson in courage. She has accepted a challenge and then assesses what sacrifices must be made to reach her goal. In another example, a student violinist may have the goal of auditioning for and being accepted as a member of the elementary school ensemble. Yet he knows his skills are lacking. He weighs the price – more practice which means more time and more effort. He determines the goal is worth it and schedules his time accordingly perhaps foregoing other activities that might be more enjoyable in the short run but would not help him reach his goal.
This too is courage. Granted, it is not courage that opposes an external force. This courage makes the child oppose his own inclinations for immediate gratification. It is courage, nonetheless.